Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler


Our Relic Air Raid Siren Gets a New and Better Home


A few years ago, I wrote about a Cold War relic that we have in our valley, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren. Many of you remember our post-WWII Cold War with the Soviet Union that put the Los Angeles area in the crosshairs of a possible bomber attack. To combat this, a ring of missiles was situated around Greater LA, along with a robust air raid siren warning system. We’ve all seen the small air raid sirens all over LA that are rusting away atop telephone poles. Those were put in in the late ’40s/early ’50s. But in 1955 a number of monstrously huge sirens were installed as well, and we had one of them right here.

Our big siren was mounted atop Cerro Negro Peak in the San Rafael Hills. Cerro Negro looks down on the 2 Freeway on one side and Cherry Canyon and Descanso Gardens on the other. The siren mounted there was as big as a car and, in fact, was powered by a Chrysler V8 engine. It rotated as it screamed, pumping out an incredible 138 decibels. For comparison, a fighter jet engine with afterburners on is about 130 decibels.

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

The big air raid siren sounded once a month as a test throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s. Baby Boomers remember the loud wail and the “duck-and-cover” drills at school. The siren was decommissioned in the 1980s and sat rusting away on Cerro Negro, serving merely as a landmark for partying teenagers.

One of those (former) partying teenagers, Joanna Linkchorst, now grown and with a passion for local history, hiked up there recently and found it missing. Joanna contacted Dennis Hadley, a Cold War historian who documents the remaining air raid sirens. Dennis, who calls himself “the siren hunter,” doggedly tracked it down through various bureaucracies and finally located it at the March Field Air Museum
in Riverside.

Dennis put me in touch with Jeff Houlihan, the collections director of the museum. I asked Jeff about the odyssey that brought our air raid siren into their collection.

“Metrocell Construction (an engineering company in Ontario, California that supports cellphone companies) was awarded the contract to remove the siren in 2019. Recognizing the historic value of the artifact they contacted me at the MFAM and arranged to donate. If they had not done so the siren would have been scrapped. Lincoln and Parker Ontko both completed Eagle Scout projects in the cosmetic restoration of the siren and the tower. The siren has been placed on display next to our B-52, FB-111 and B-47 bombers from its operational period,” he said.

And indeed Jeff sent me a photo of our big siren sitting atop its tower in front of a huge static B-52 bomber. I’ve seen it so many times over the years on Cerro Negro in various states of disrepair and rust that I barely recognized it now, beautifully painted a dark red.

I had to ask Jeff the obvious question – will it run? Jeff replied: “That depends on our ability to raise the required donations. We need to rebuild or replace the Chrysler 331 hemi that runs the system to begin. I have every reason to believe the siren can be made at least partially operational again.”

There are several YouTube videos of another Chrysler air raid siren that has been restored by a guy in Texas. The siren was once mounted near Hansen Dam, but now rides on a trailer and demonstrates its power at various air shows across the U.S. Listening to that sinister wail makes your blood run cold, and takes you back to a fearful era in our nation’s history.

Okay, Crescenta Valley, this is our piece of Cold War history. This is our siren. We’ve got to make it wail again! If you would like to join me in donating to the siren’s restoration, go to the March Field Air Museum website and donate, Be sure to write in the comments section that you want your donation to go to the Chrysler Air Raid Siren restoration.

Let’s make some noise!